August 3, 2012

Review: Lessons on the Edge by William Gaius

I don't think that I'm the target audience for this book. It's a first person 'memoire style' in the past tense, from the point of view of a submissive man/boy. It's set in the early 1980s and features an 18 year old boy discovering his sexuality with his 37 year old family friend, his 'Aunt'. So if you're a submissive/switch man, in either your early 20s or 50s, who kinks on older women family figures, then maybe you'd like this.

I seem to have ended up with the wrong idea about this book before I read it. I thought that it was going to be about a loving relationship, but although there is insta-love, there's no HFN and it isn't romantic. I thought it was going to be realistic, but the characterisation is inconsistent and some of the things that went on were had me scratching my head. I understood that it was straight femdom, but actually it's a switch story. These expectations have inevitably colored my opinion of the story.

The protagonist, Barry, is college age and is in love/lust/crush with his Mom's friend, his 'Aunt'. When he goes to college, he moves in with RoseAnn and they begin a sexual relationship, with increasingly heavy bdsm and domestic service. Meanwhile, at college, he meets Gloria, a wealthy young woman who is interested in him and is dominant.

The main theme of the book is Barry's sexual awakening, at the hands of an older woman. Essentially, this is one sexy time followed by another in quick succession. RoseAnn demands cunnilingus, denies Barry and manipulates him into doing the domestic chores (naked, of course).

There are several sources of conflict in the book: the age gap between RoseAnn and Barry; Barry's potential relationship with Gloria; RoseAnn's previous relationship with her ex-husband, (who sexually and physically (and perhaps emotionally) abused her); and RoseAnn's position regarding screwing her friend's son. Plenty of emotional conflict then. Some of this is conflict was explored, some not, but none of it rang true to me. 

The emotional story here is confused at best. Barry is immediately in love with RoseAnn and declares as much. She eventually also declares her love, simultaneously tells him that it's impossible because of their age difference, pushes him towards Gloria and tells him that he's just her f-ck toy. It's impossible to get a handle on what any characters' emotions are. Barry is essentially already in love with RoseAnn at the beginning of the book and repeatedly giving her oral sex confirms this. I'm not sure why RoseAnn falls in love with Barry. What Gloria sees in Barry, I have no idea. Apparently he's attractive, but otherwise he seems like a bit of a dork. The relationship with Gloria is set up, but never taken anywhere and consequently, I feel that she's a bit of a non-character.

There's a lack of realism in many of the scenes of this book - primarily due to inconsistencies in characterization. The portrayal of the women veers wildly between quite recognizable and completely alien to me. For instance, Barry is exploring his room in his new flat share with RoseAnn:
My lust got the better of me. I felt like a burglar as I opened a dresser drawer and found some underwear, somewhat the worse for wear. Clearly, this was her old stuff, stored in this spare room.
I don't keep my old underwear, especially not the 'worse for wear' stuff. I don't keep old underwear in the spare room. And I definitely don't keep old underwear in my spare room that's being sub-let by my potential boy-toy. That said, just after reading this passage and wondering WTF, I read this post by DumbDomme, where she's putting old underwear into her spare dresser. Clearly storing old underwear in the spare room is something women do. But seriously, worse for wear? I can't find anything sexy in that.

Another moment left me not just confused, but actually concerned. RoseAnn takes Barry to a sex shop, blushes when she asks for a whip and the shop assistant blushes as well! (Really!???!) But more to the point, Miss Mary at the shop gives RoseAnn a free ball gag with her whip, with this comment to Barry:
“That? It’s a ball gag. It muffles your screams so the neighbors won’t call the police. We recommend that beginners use it until they find the level of pain that’s right for them.” She smiled wickedly at me. “Some free advice for you—a good slave tries his best not to scream. If he truly loves his mistress, he’ll want to challenge her to whip harder and test his limits.”
Me, I think that sounds tantamount to emotional blackmail and dangerous advice for a sex shop to be dishing out. I have a problem with technical errors or misleading statements in fiction, because although I appreciate that it's fiction, I know for myself that I take inspiration from what I read, so I really dislike anything that I feel might have led me to believe that something was safe, which wasn't.

On the other hand, some of the behaviour of RoseAnn as a grown up woman and domme and the confusion of Barry, a young man as ignorant as most young men are, is just inspired. When RoseAnn makes Barry promise not to masturbate and begins the process of tease, denial and domestic servitude, the portrayal of the discussion which leads to Barry becoming RoseAnn's domestic boy was pretty amusing. It really captures something of the assumptions and knowledge differences inherent in an older woman, young man, relationship.
"...I suppose you expect me to do your laundry, too?"
"You’re not?" I made it a joke, although I hadn’t even thought about how my laundry would get done. My folks worked long hours, and we had a housekeeper for the everyday chores.
"No, in fact, I expect you to do mine."
It's fun to see RoseAnn's demands of service and experience against Barry's naive hopes and expectations. RoseAnn's introduction of denial and domestic chores, including washing RoseAnn's "brassiers" and other underwear is unequivocally because she kinks on it. And he finds that he kinks on it too, describing his day for his reader in detail.
“I see that you behaved yourself today.”
“I finished my work and I didn’t masturbate, if that’s what you mean.”
“I know. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be on your knees without being told, doing what you’re doing now. You spent the whole day thinking about me, didn’t you? Thinking about what we might do when I got home?” She touched my cock with her foot, and giggled at my sudden gasp.
*** Spoilers ***
But in many other ways the characterisation of RoseAnn is totally confusing. She repeatedly mentions her ex husband who hit her and forced her to give him blow jobs. Consequently, she hates the taste of semen and tells Barry that she won't let him come in her mouth. She's strongly dominant in the first part of the book, so the WTF when she asks Barry to dominate and rape her is very high. He dominates her again when she comes home in a bad mood and demands sex. He whips her, forces her to suck him off and swallow and she loves it - says that it was just what she needed. I don't understand why Barry does this, because he says that his fantasies are submissive. And when she comes home dominant, how does he know that she needs to be submissive? I don't really get that spontaneous telepathy. Neither is RoseAnn's state of mind any clearer, as the story is first person from Barry's point of view, the reader has no way in to RoseAnn's emotions or thoughts when this switch occurs. It's apropos of nothing.

RoseAnn is an odd combination of extremely confident and clever, and rather, well, weird. The style of RoseAnn's flattery of Barry (saying that he could have any woman he wanted, asking if he'd performed oral sex before because he was so good at it) and the slightly self belittling style of these comments (saying that a woman of her age doesn't get to see a young man naked very often, chastising Barry for not taking the initiative and kissing her when she hints that she wants sexual relations) doesn't sit very well with me. She's disgusted when Barry eats her out when she's on her period:
"Whatever comes from your body is sacred to me."
"Well, that’s generous, but it just about makes me sick to think about it."
The inconsistency of RoseAnn's behaviour continues when she agrees at the end of the book to get together with her boss Steve, who appears mid-story to be an asshole creep who Barry has to help her get rid of. She doesn't like Steve, and says earlier in the book that she's in demand and doesn't need this job. So... I'm confused about the her motivation here. RoseAnn loves Barry remember - but she encourages him to get involved with Gloria, mainly because she's rich I think. The reason RoseAnn gives for this is the age gap - 19 years - between them makes a relationship unfeasible. But she didn't seem to have any qualms about that age gap when she set out to seduce him in chapter one. She also had no worries about the idea of keeping him as her boy-toy for a couple of years earlier in the story. Never mind too that she is friends with Barry's mother - surely that's an unforgivable betrayal of trust? To seduce your friend's son?

Other characters are no more realistic. Barry lets slip to his parents that he's going away for the weekend with their friend and his landlady, RoseAnn. His mother's immediate assumption is that they're sleeping together and immediately checks that they're using protection (they're not). I find both the immediate assumption of a non platonic relationship and her only comment being about protection, totally crazy. Most people that I know would assume that they're just going away together. As friends - you know - like people do in real life rather than erotica. And EVERY mother I know who found out that their friend was sleeping with their son, would go mental. Probably homicidal.

*** End Spoilers ***

I found some of the phrasing a little crude and occasionally rather hackneyed. For example, Barry is in a bar and a man he doesn't know says to him in reference to Gloria:
"You smell of cunt, and I happen to know that she likes nothing better than having her twat licked."
Other class phrases include: "Oh Barry, this is the best ever." , liquid brown eyes, the most beautiful God ever made and the dense black bush between her legs.

Ultimately, the biggest problem for me was that I discovered that I squick terribly on any sort of familial style relationship being mixed up with sex. I'm totally squicked by even faux incest. I thought that since it wasn't a close or blood relation or man, I would be okay with it. Not so much. RoseAnn is 37, but by some of the things that are said in this book, you'd think that she was 50. I know that the taboo is part of the attraction, but when RoseAnn is mistaken for being his mother, it freaked me out a lot. 

TL,DR. This wasn't what I expected and the whole 'Aunt' thing was the antithesis of sexy for me. There are some moments of hotness and there are some nicely observed younger man/older women moments. But ultimately, this book just didn't work for me at all.

Perhaps I could have forgiven the faults if my expectations had been different and it hadn't triggered all my 'yuk' buttons. Or maybe I just needed to be the target audience. For me though, it was a C-.

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